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Cal Basketball

Fresno State is Reloading — and Rebuilding — for 2020

October 28, 2019

Much like many of the smaller area schools Cal’s men’s hoops team faces in the non-conference portion of their 2019-2020 schedule, Fresno State brings back a veteran core of players and a new coach.

And just like Santa Clara, San Francisco, and others, Mark Fox and staff will need to have the Bears ready to go if they’re going to build up some early confidence and notches in the win column before beginning conference play.

Fresno State Bulldogs

Head Coach: Justin Hutson

2019 Season: 23-9 (13-5), KenPom No. 71

2020 KenPom Projection: 17-11 (11-7), No. 106

2020 Torvik Projection: 14-14 (8-10), No. 156

While Justin Hutson is entering just his second season as a head coach, he’s been an assistant at the collegiate and high school level for two decades and was an assistant at UNLV and San Diego State for about a dozen years before taking over the Bulldogs at Fresno State.

Last season, the Bulldogs had a top-100 adjusted offense and defense, according to KenPom. On offense, shot the ball incredibly well (54.5% eFG%, 30th in the nation, according to KenPom), especially from the three-point line (38.2%, 20th in KenPom). They took care of the ball only turning it over 18.2 times for every 100 possessions (No. 150 in KenPom), and only giving up steals on 8.2 times of every 100 possessions (No. 96 in KenPom).

However, the Bulldogs had shots blocked at a rate of 10.8 times per 100 possessions (No. 289 in KenPom) and were not good at drawing fouls or offensive rebounding.

On defense, the Bulldogs excelled at holding opponents to low field goal percentages (48.5% opponent eFG% for No. 74 in KenPom. Fresno State was also deft at guarding the three-point line, giving up just 30.7% of threes on the season (24th in KenPom). They were also good at cleaning up missed shots and keeping opponents off the offensive glass as well as creating steals. Their biggest weakness on the defense was fouling as they put opponents on the free-throw line frequently.

Key Returning Players:

Nate Grimes, 6-8, SR., 11.8 pts, 9.2 rbds, 1.7 blks

Noah Blackwell, 6-3, SR., 8.5 pts, 3.6 asts, 2.6 rbds

New Williams, 6-1, SR., 8.2 pts, 3.2 rbds

Noah Blackwell and New Williams will provide a solid backcourt for the Bulldogs this season. They both have been playing college ball for more than three seasons (after transferring from other schools) and should provide solid leadership and experience. The departures of Braxton Huggins and Deshon Taylor make room for Blackwell and Williams to truly lead the team and give an opportunity to earn 30 minutes or per game. Blackwell is the most efficient three-point shooter returning from last year’s team, knocking down 54 of 130 three-point attempts for a clip of 41.5%.

Nate Grimes is a rebounding monster, averaging nearly a double-double last season. He’ll be an early challenge for Cal’s young and unproven frontcourt. 

Key Incoming Players:

Mustafa Lawrence, 6-0, JR., Transfer

Assane Diouf, 7-0, FR.

Chris Seeley, 6-8, SO., Transfer

Mustafa Lawrence joins the Bulldogs after spending a season at Missouri State and then another at Tallahassee Community College. As a freshman, Lawrence played in 22 games at Missouri State, averaging just under five points per game, but showed the ability to knock down outside shots, going 21 for 50. 

Assane Diouf is a seven-foot freshman rated as a three-star on 247Sports originally from Senegal and should provide a good early evaluation on how Cal’s young frontcourt players are adjusting to college. Because of his size and skillset, Diouf could be a starter for the Bulldogs. 

And Chris Seeley is a Fresno native who played one year at Utah before transferring home. With his size, he could also make an early impact on the Bulldogs’ frontcourt.

Key Losses:

Braxton Huggins, 6-4, Graduated, 18.5 pts, 4.3 rbds, 1.7 asts

Deshon Taylor, 6-2, NBA, 17.9 pts, 5.0 asts, 3.7 rbds

Sam Bittner, 6-6, Graduated, 6.7 pts, 4.7 rbds, 2.2 asts

The reason why the Bulldogs aren’t projected as high as they finished last season despite being loaded with juniors and seniors is the departure of these three players. Besides rebounding, they pretty much did it all last season. There are a lot of question marks facing the Bulldogs in terms of who scores and who distributes the ball and runs the offense. 

I don’t like saying games are must-wins. Especially before the season even starts and in college basketball, in general, because of the length of the season. But this is a game Cal should win. KenPom projects the Bulldogs to win by two, but that’s essentially a tossup. Torvik has the Bears winning by seven. If the Bears can’t beat this Fresno State team at home, it could be the beginnings of another long winter.

Opponent Non-Con Conference Preview Series:

Santa Clara

San Francisco

UC Davis




Prairie View A&M

Cal Baptist



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